Christmas traditions, activities, and events can differ excellently between cultures in more ways than you might think. France is no exception to this – there are lots of traditions that are specific to the festive French season.
Here are ten facts about Christmas in France that you may not have known:
The traditional Christmas meal eaten on Christmas Eve can last up to 6 hours
Many French people would traditionally eat the feast known as ‘Le Réveillon’ after attending midnight mass at church. Even in less religious households, this meal is still enjoyed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
There is a lot of food and talking, making the meal last as long as 6 hours!
Some French people enjoy 13 desserts after their main meal
One Christmas tradition specific to Provence’s region is ‘Les Treize.’ It involves eating 13 different desserts after having eaten the main meal.
These 13 desserts are meant to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples.
The Eve of St. Nicholas is celebrated on 5th December
St. Nicholas is celebrated as the protector of children and bringer of gifts by some French families. That’s why, before his arrival on the 6th, children leave out their shoes by the entrance to their home, along with treats for St. Nicholas’ nonessential.
The next day, they will find gifts and delicious treats in their shoes. Sometimes, this celebration can be the principal celebration of Christmas for some French families in the north.
Saint Nicholas has a helper who decides who’s been naughty and nice
Père Fouettard is the name of Saint Nicholas’ helper, who decides which children have been good and deserve gifts and which children have been wrong and get nothing.
His name translates as ‘Father Spanker’ because he traditionally would punish naughty children by spanking them.
Many families go to the circus around Christmas
A lot of French families go to festive circuses at Christmas. They are especially loved by children and are similar to Pantomime performances.
People exchange chocolates with messages inside
Wrapped chocolates or candied fruit are given to each other and are known as ‘Les Papillotes.’ Inside of them is a little note, a little bit like a fortune cookie.
These can be compared to the tradition of Christmas crackers, although these are not used in France.
Christmas markets are trendy
Christmas markets, otherwise known as ‘Les Marchés de Nöel,’ are top-rated festive attractions across France, although this was not originally a French tradition.
The most popular Christmas markets are near the German border, where the tradition arrived in France. Strasbourg and the Alsace region are top-rated locations for Christmas markets.
Many French households make their own Christmas models
‘La Crèche’ is a clay model scene that many French families like to make and then put on display. It consists of miniature figurines and clay buildings.
It depicts the birth of Jesus and is very similar to our model Nativity scenes.
Mistletoe is found hanging from many doorways
One classic French tradition is to hang mistletoe in doorways in the house. It is a tradition that we might recognize from other cultures too.
Unlike in our tradition, mistletoe is not for kissing underneath. Instead, it is meant to bring good fortune.
Christmas trees are decorated a little differently
Having a decorated Christmas tree in your home has long been a Christmas tradition in France. However, they tend to decorate their trees slightly differently from us.
Their trees were often decorated with ribbon, paper flowers, and apples. Although, in modern times, most people now opt for baubles over apples.